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The Argument From Perfection

God(s) may or may not exist depending on how one defines a deity. To the people of biblical times, for example, an educated and accomplished individual of today might well appear godlike. Likewise, a race of extraterrestrials far more technologically advanced than we are would probably satisfy most if not all of the traditional criteria for divinity.

From our modern perspective, moreover, the gods of the Greek and Roman pantheons and others are dismissed without a second thought. Using modern methods of investigation, there is no reason to suppose that any of the "miracles" claimed by the ancients in diverse texts from the Bible to the works of Tacitus and Herodotus could not be easily discredited. Even today, the tricks of god-men and "psychics" and other pretenders have been and continue to be systematically exposed. Under controlled conditions, the "miracles" simply fail to happen.

But other contemporary believers in god(s) have gotten much more sophisticated. Now their god(s) don't live in the clouds, on mountaintops, inside volcanoes, under the sea or beneath the earth or even on the other side of the solid dome of the biblical firmament. Now Yahweh and Allah and Jesus and Jehovah live in some other dimension, outside of space and time. Now they are physicists who are alleged to be capable of controlling, with a thought, the laws that govern matter and energy as easily as an investigator in the laboratory controls the temperature and pH of an experiment.

The proponents of this or that deity have also given up proving the truth of their claims by stopping the sun or changing sticks into snakes or bringing dead people back to life several days after they've died. Now, when modern believers claim miracles, they invariably point merely to events that are known to happen occasionally and are fully consistent with objective understanding of physical laws. Far more troublesome to contemporary theists are the very many theological conundrums that arise from their doctrines: an "Original Sin" that is supernaturally "inherited" from generation to generation, a God that must sacrifice Himself to Himself in order to forgive sin, a God that orders genocidal exterminations and Himself establishes the institution of slavery, etc. All these are dealt with by a variety of clever means, none of which are justified except as a means to preserve the viability of the faith they defend. Likewise, even the very apparent contradiction inherent in the claim of god(s) being both omnipotent and omnibeneficent is glossed over as having to do with "mysterious" divine purposes that everyone will have to die before they can truly understand.

These sorts of modern excuses for god(s) effectively remove theological questions into the realm of metaphysics, a sanctuary in which they are safe from the prying investigations and corresponding threats of scientific inquiry. Instead of refusing to look into the telescope, theists now say that the evidence of the senses is irrelevant to their claims. This approach has etherealized the idea of the divine and of divine attributes. But there remains one characteristic of god(s) which cannot be so obfuscated without doing real harm to the bare essential of the concept of a deity, and especially a singular deity who is said to be the Creator and Master of all that exists.

For all those who assert the existence of god(s) also unswervingly assert the absolute perfection of their god(s). Indeed, the notion of a god as a perfect being is virtually the only anchor that maintains the concept of divinity in the realm of human understanding. Everything else about god(s), one or another theist have insisted, cannot be grasped by the supposedly limited human mind. Perfection is the only criterion which, even if a divine perfection has otherworldly interpretations and ramifications besides, any god(s) must satisfy.

But what is perfection? Perfection is the possession of any attribute to such an extreme degree that there can be no improvement on it. It is to be incomparably excellent. Since believers insist that their God is perfect in every way, this means that their God is incomparable in every respect. There is nothing about Him which can be in any way criticized, much less improved. This is also perfectly in keeping with the belief of theists that their god(s) are unchanging and immutable. Even the writers of the Bible expressed this opinion at Malachi 3:6: when God is made to say, "For I am the LORD, I change not."

This presents an obvious difficulty, because all god(s), including the biblical deity, clearly do change. At one time, for example, God is supposed to have created Heaven and the angels. Then He became unhappy with an angelic revolt and created Hell. Later, he created the Earth and human beings and "saw that it was good." But He soon became unhappy with Earth and its inhabitants as well, it being said at Genesis 6:6 that, "it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart." The story goes on and on, of course. First God makes a present of land to Abraham and his descendants. Then He allows His "Chosen People" to languish in slavery. First he hardens the heart of Pharaoh and then he smites the Egyptians for their divinely ordained intransigence. The story goes on and on and, according to believers of all varieties, it is still unfolding. How can a perfect and unchanging deity be doing all these things?

The God of the Bible, and, indeed, any sort of god(s) who takes any sort of action, no matter how small, is not an unchanging and immutable deity. Nor can such a God be perfect. For if He is perfect, then He is already lacking in nothing. He is utterly and absolutely complete in and of Himself and can want for nothing. Therefore, He can do nothing but exist, for there can be no reason for him to do anything else. His will cannot be more than to simply be. He cannot affect anyone or anything. And He cannot be affected by anyone or anything. A perfect God, even if He has a metaphysical existence, is necessarily a metaphysical cipher

Now it may be objected that God could be perfect and yet able to take action and possess a divine will. Perfection, it might be asserted, is not like a mountain top, a single static point, but more like a mountain range or a variety of extreme positions any one of which could be considered to be perfect. But this cannot be the case. For the claim of believers is not that their God is perfect in one respect but not in others. They do not say of their God that He is incomparable with respect to one or a limited number of divine attributes but in other respects can be considered as possessing qualities in a greater or lesser degree.

Rather, theists insist that for every attribute that can apply to their God, He is its absolute apotheosis. He is not just good, for example, but perfectly good. Nor can there be more than one state of absolute goodness (or anything else). For if there were, they would have to be distinguishable in some way in order not to be one and the same. But if they are distinguishable, then they can be compared with one another, which must necessarily render one or the other of them imperfect since the essence of the notion of perfection is that of incomparability. If God could possess an attribute to a greater or lesser degree and still be perfect, He could just as well also be more or less good, loving, powerful, etc. and still be perfect. But that is at odds with what believers commonly mean when they assert that God is perfect. Perfection implies uniqueness and the necessity of stasis, if not immutability.

Nor can God's perfection be compared to what people commonly intend when they speak of the quite ordinary sort of "perfection" of some object or action in the human sphere of experience. For the essence of divine perfection is that it is not to be judged as a means to some end. Indeed, it cannot be so judged inasmuch as God's perfection, according to theists, supposedly serves as the absolute basis for all other purposes and values. God is supposed to be perfect in every way. Accordingly, He cannot learn or think, because He already knows everything. Nor can he do anything because to do so would require that He had in mind some purpose, which is to say, some end which would improve His satisfaction. If He could be said to be sitting on a throne with his legs crossed right over left, for example, basking in His absolute glory of perfection, what possible reason could He have to uncross His legs and recross them left over right? If He is perfect, he can have no reason for doing so, because He is already perfect and cannot be improved upon. Therefore, a perfect God, having no motive for doing anything, and certainly being unaffected and invulnerable to any and all other forces (if any can be said to exist outside of Himself), can do nothing but exist.

Now it may remain a fair criticism to say that divine perfection really does not have and cannot have any clear meaning. There is certainly nothing in objective human experience that informs us as to the nature of such absolute perfection. But, then, the notions of God's omnipotence and omniscience suffer from the same defects. If even God's perfection has no practical meaning for human beings, then the last connection of the concept of divinity as a serious metaphysical concept to intelligibility is severed. And if the notion of god(s) as anything other than fictional entities is completely unintelligible, then the idea of God is certainly without any significance or importance for thinking human beings. If divine perfection does not require God to be absolutely immobile and inert, then it renders Him absolutely meaningless.